Replay only possible if Royal offer is made


THERE IS a chance yesterday’s controversial Leinster final could be replayed. It would depend on champions Meath deciding to offer Louth a rematch because under rule, the GAA has no powers to interfere with a match that has been won on the field, regardless of the validity of the winning score.

Previous examples of matches being replayed go back a number of years. Leinster Council authorised a rematch between Laois and Carlow after a “point” scored at the end of the 1995 championship fixture was seen to have gone wide. But “authorised” is the operative word, as Laois first had to offer the rematch.

After a similar outcome to a controversy in the 2001 Leinster club championship match between Na Fianna and Sarsfields, dissatisfaction with the pressure to offer rematches led to Croke Park requesting the practice cease. GAA sources last night indicated this request is not binding as it hasn’t been incorporated into the rules nor issued as a Central Council directive. As a result the discretion remains with Meath should they wish to offer a rematch. If the offer is made, it’s virtually certain that Leinster Council will accede to the request.

The closing minutes of yesterday’s Leinster final flipped open the lid on a Pandora’s box of issues for the GAA. Ironically on a day when the World Cup reached its climax, it was a controversy well-aired during the past month that came into sharp focus with the clearly incorrect award of a decisive goal to Meath.

That any team should be on the verge of a title and have their hopes dashed in such a manner would be a subject of discomfort. It has been particularly unfortunate, however, the victims of the injustice should be a county, Louth, that has provided one of the summer’s most compelling narratives by reaching a first provincial final in 50 years.

Meath were a bit shell-shocked by the success and the manner in which it came about but mounted a spirited and reasoned defence of their position. Manager Eamon O’Brien and captain Nigel Crawford pointed out mistakes and incorrect decisions happen and that it was the timing of yesterday’s incident more than its nature that had contributed most to the unfolding controversy.

Where do you draw the line? If a first-half score is discovered on video review to have been invalid after a match decided by a point – as happened in the 1997 Ulster final – is the losing team entitled to a rematch? Or as Crawford mentioned, if Peter Canavan’s handpass that led to a disallowed equaliser at the end of the 1995 All-Ireland final was proved to be valid, should Tyrone have been granted a second chance?

Distinctions will be drawn between the above events and what happened yesterday. Cavan’s point in 1997 happened with three quarters of the match left and the Canavan handpass was a matter of refereeing interpretation of an ambiguous action.

But Joe Sheridan’s goal came at the end of the match when Louth had no opportunity to recover. Its award was bizarre, as the umpires didn’t signal it until referee Martin Sludden consulted with them and the green flag was raised despite it being quite clear from farther away that Sheridan had carried the ball over the line.

Other matters that will be of concern include the standard of officiating. Referee Sludden was either grievously mistaken or very badly served by his umpires.

The problem of crowd invasions was illustrated by what happened afterwards. Yet again a big crowd disregarded requests to stay off the field and the argument such actions are just “harmless” celebration was exposed by the attack on the referee.

Croke Park’s optimism that persuasion could resolve the matter looks misplaced and it seems legislation to ban the practice or fencing are inevitable.